After Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed as manager of Manchester United, he earmarked a handful of academy players as the future of the club.
Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, James Garner, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe were the names picked out by the United legend and he’s lived up to the task on the most part of bringing them through.
Greenwood is now a certified first-teamer with big starting opportunities, while Brandon Williams has established himself in the running for a full-back position. Tahith Chong has joined Bundesliga side Werder Bremen on loan for the season to get regular football, while James Garner is likely to join a Championship side before the window closes. Angel Gomes has left the club following a failure to agree a new contract, joining Lille on a permanent deal but going to Boavista on loan for the coming campaign. Tuanzebe though, has barely progressed.
After returning from his successful loan spell at Aston Villa, Tuanzebe was expected to challenge for a starting role alongside Harry Maguire. After initial appearances, he was named captain for the Carabao Cup tie against Rochdale but then his injuries became a real problem.
Throughout the campaign, Tuanzebe made just 10 appearances across all competitions. While he performed relatively well in all of them, he never made the breakthrough. Victor Lindelof has continued to be the first choice pick alongside Maguire with Bailly and Tuanzebe’s injuries, while Jones, Rojo and Smalling are all likely to be moved on before the end of the transfer window.
But Solskjær has seemingly moved on from having Tuanzebe as his defensive lynchpin from the academy.
Following a string of impressive training performances and games at U23 level, Teden Mengi has had glowing reviews in the public eye from coaches, players and now the manager. Most recently, Solskjær compared Mengi to Juventus defender Matthijs De Ligt.
With Solskjær now looking for opportunities to bring Mengi through into the first-team picture, plus the public chase for a new centre-back during this or the next transfer window, Tuanzebe’s future is now in doubt.
Only 22 years old, he has all the attributes to become a top class centre-back for Manchester United. He’s quick, strong, dominant in the air, good on the ball and positionally good. He’s still rash in the tackle but overall, his flaws can all be improved with more game time. The issue he has is that he seems to be made of glass.
The greatest ability any footballer can have is availability. It doesn’t matter if you’re the reincarnation of Alessandro Nesta as a defender, if you’re never fit to play then you’re no use to anyone. It’s possible that Eric Bailly could be the scapegoat as he suffers with his own fitness issues, but he’s also currently better than Tuanzebe too.
It’s a decision Solskjær needs to make sooner rather than later, but Tuanzebe can have a big say in what gets said. If he can stay fit and continue to perform at a good level, he has more than enough about him to not only displace Lindelof from the side but also make United think twice about signing someone new for that position instead.